Hours after firing their head coach, the Tampa Bay Lightning will take to the ice at the MTS Centre and square off against their divisional foes, the Winnipeg Jets. Both teams have a lot riding on this game; the Lightning are looking to claw their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff race while the Jets hope to distance themselves from the rest of the pack in the Southeast Division.
As part of our gameday coverage, we had a few questions relating to the Lightning before puck-drop tonight.
With that, here is our pal John Fontana from Raw Charge in today's instalment of Gameday Questionnaire:
1. After a hot start to the season, where did things go wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning?
That’s such a simple question and such a complex answer is due in it’s response. It’s never just one thing, but the simplest answer is always the first reaction: They were playing offense-first to star the season and when teams started playing defense, the Lightning tanked.
Some people – myself included – point to goaltending coach Frantz Jean for inconsistency in the pipes (that is noted repeatedly). It’s a chronic problem the past three seasons. Others pointed to former head coach Guy Boucher, to the defense, to the lack of puck possession, a lack of urgency, and of course the most common excuse of them all: injuries. There’s no right answer, but the best summary of why the Lightning have cooled off is thus: They fell down and have gone boom.
2. With the trade deadline looming, will the Bolts be buyers, sellers or stand pat?
Right now, I can’t tell you for sure. I thought they conceded the season by way of mediocre showings time and again the past few weeks, but seeing Steve Yzerman has not made any acquisitions or shedded any key players (sans 4th liner Adam Hall who was lost to waivers), it seems like the Bolts are going to stand pat until April 3rd. This might change with how the team plays in the immediate future, but if they do anything – I see them as selling, not buying. I could be wrong.
3. The Lightning are currently fourth in the Southeast Division, but only five points out of a playoff position. With Boucher fired, can this team turn things around and make the playoffs? How do you see the next month playing out?
Everything is turned on it’s head with this morning’s announcement of Guy Boucher’s dismissal. Who replaces him and how the team responds to that new Head Coach (if it’s a permanent replacement hiring) will tell us if the Bolts can sneak into the playoffs or not. Right now it’s anyone’s ballgame in the SEDiv, that’s why the Lightning haven’t shed veterans with the trade deadline looming. There’s still a chance and Yzerman will not concede it; that notion is what was underlined in Boucher’s dismissal.
So, depending on who is brought in to coach, the notion of the Lightning making the playoffs isn’t foreign, but it’s a reach. I see the month ahead as working for next season while competing in this one. This is a last gasp in a weak division, and that makes it practice for next season in a rough-and-tumble division. If the Lightning make an internal hiring with Jon Cooper, I think the playoffs are quite in reach. If, instead, Tampa Bay hires from outside the organization (say, Lindy Ruff), then the season truly is a wash. The scant time left is simply working for next season and the changes that will be necessitated by Ruff’s system.
Ed. Note: We thank John for his for his time in this edition of Gameday Questionnaire. Look for our next edition of Gameday Questionnaire Tuesday with our pals from Canes Country.